Review by Jane Houseman (The Guardian) Lesley Glaister's latest novel is a gothic tale of horror and neglect. In a narrative that switches between the present day and the 1920s, we see how the damage wrought during the childhood of twins Isis and Osiris has blighted their lives for nearly a century. The twins' names are a clue to their parents' particular madness, which is to join the "mummy rush" in Egypt, just like their arch-rival, the (real life) archaeologist Howard Carter. Alas, while Carter's hunt for Tutankhamun will ultimately prove successful, it turns out that Evelyn and Arthur are as poor at Egyptology as they are at parenting. Glaister is very good at creating an atmosphere of rank gloom, and her alternating structure gives her rich opportunities for dramatic tension, which she exploits brilliantly. She slowly ramps up the grotesqueries with just the right amount of dark and light: a gleam of macabre humour leavens the misery, while there is always empathy for Isis, doomed to suffer a horrible life to protect her disturbed and disturbing twin.
Review by Sam baker (Harpers Bazaar) What makes one book take off and another not? There's money, of course. If a publisher has spent six figures on a book, of course they're going to invest just as heavily in time, effort and promotion to earn that money back. There's word of mouth (think Jojo Moyes' Me Before You, the very definition of a word of mouth hit). There are awards. Being shortlisted for - or, for the lucky few, winning - the Bailey's, Costa, ManBooker, Betty Trask, amongst others guarantees a handy cheque and a certain amount of column inches. And there are book clubs. Richard & Judy, whilst dismissed by many in the literary world, may well trump the lot for sheer shelf-space-by-the-till-in-WHSmith.
But above all, there's timing. Right time + right place + right book + right person hears about it on Twitter and downloads it, then goes on about how much they loved it = a perfect storm of circumstances that makes your book this year's Gone Girl.
Well, before Gillian Flynn, there was Lesley Glaister. Many of these things happened individually to her, too, just, maybe, not at the right time or in the right order, and certainly not all together.
Thinking, 'Lesley who?' Well, exactly.
I discovered Glaister (think Gillian Flynn meets Erin Kelly with Patricia Highsmith's talent for brevity) almost two decades ago. Her first novel, Honour Thy Father won the Somerset Maugham and a Betty Trask and was described by the Sunday Times as 'a true original...wife battering, incest, murder, madness and monstrosity seem a lot to pack into a slim volume but Lesley Glaister's startling short work never gets crowded.' It was quickly followed by Trick or Treat which many considered to be even better.
For years, Glaister was prolific. Somewhere after book six or seven she began to edge away from the slow-burn, sick sensation in the pit of your stomach, macabre towards a more thriller sensibility. Wherever she went, I followed. But somewhere along the line, something was lost. Chicklit was in the ascendant and Glaister's bleak view of the world fell from favour. When Chosen was published, in 2010, I'm ashamed to say I - an obsessive fan only a few years earlier - wasn't aware of it.
But grim is back in. Middle class domestic horror that owes more to Glaister's work than it has thus far acknowledged, is topping the book charts and (largely) female novelists who aren't afraid to probe the ugly side of human relationships are finding success.
Consequently, so is Glaister. Years in the writing, her twelfth novel, Little Egypt, published this month, sees her return to the familiar gothic territory of her early work.
Elderly siblings, Isis and Osiris, live alone in a once-affluent country house that now finds itself wedged between a superstore and a dual carriageway. They've been there as long as they can remember, trapped in a circle of the grotesque and the mundane by their Egyptologist parents who abandoned them in the 1920s. But the careful balance of their existence is thrown into disarray when Iris meets Spike scavenging in a superstore dump store.
Switching between the twins' 1920s childhood and their present day decay until the horror of their existence becomes all too clear, Little Egypt perfectly demonstrates why Glaister is the suspense writers' suspense writer. With Little Egypt, she is back on Honour Thy Father form. I still have that slow, sick, ache in the pit of my stomach to prove it.
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